Herman Melville

Harrison Hayford, Alma A. MacDougall, Hershel Parker, and G. Thomas Tanselle (eds), The Writings of Herman Melville: The Northwestern-Newberry Edition, Vol. 12: Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land

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pg 9129. The Recluse

  • 1Ere yet they win that verge and line,
  • 2Reveal the stranger. Name him—Vine.
  • 3His home to tell—kin, tribe, estate—
  • 4Would naught avail. Alighting grow,
  • Editor’s Note5As on the tree the mistletoe,
  • 6All gifts unique. In seeds of fate
  • 7Borne on the winds these emigrate
  • 8And graft the stock.
  • Vine's manner shy
  • 9A clog, a hindrance might imply;
  • 10A lack of parlor-wont. But grace
  • 11Which is in substance deep and grain
  • 12May, peradventure, well pass by
  • 13The polish of veneer. No trace
  • 14Of passion's soil or lucre's stain,
  • 15Though life was now half ferried o'er.
  • 16If use he served not, but forbore—
  • 17Such indolence might still but pine
  • 18In dearth of rich incentive high:
  • 19Apollo slave in Mammon's mine?
  • Editor’s Note20Better Admetus' shepherd lie.
  • 21      A charm of subtle virtue shed
  • 22A personal influence coveted,
  • 23Whose source was difficult to tell
  • 24As ever was that perfumed spell
  • 25Of Paradise-flowers invisible
  • Editor’s Note26Which angels round Cecilia bred.
  • 27      A saint then do we here unfold?
  • 28Nay, the ripe flush, Venetian mould
  • 29Evinced no nature saintly fine,
  • Editor’s Note30But blood like swart Vesuvian wine.
  • 31What cooled the current? Under cheer
  • 32Of opulent softness, reigned austere
  • 33Control of self. Flesh, but scarce pride,
  • 34Was curbed: desire was mortified;
  • 35But less indeed by moral sway
  • 36Than doubt if happiness thro' clay
  • pg 9237Be reachable. No sackclothed man;
  • Editor’s Note38Howbeit, in sort Carthusian
  • 39Tho' born a Sybarite. And yet
  • 40Not beauty might he all forget,
  • 41The beauty of the world, and charm:
  • 42He prized it tho' it scarce might warm.
  • 43      Like to the nunnery's denizen
  • 44His virgin soul communed with men
  • 45But thro' the wicket. Was it clear
  • 46This coyness bordered not on fear—
  • 47Fear or an apprehensive sense?
  • 48Not wholly seemed it diffidence
  • 49Recluse. Nor less did strangely wind
  • 50Ambiguous elfishness behind
  • Editor’s Note51All that: an Ariel unknown.
  • 52It seemed his very speech in tone
  • 53Betrayed disuse. Thronged streets astir
  • 54To Vine but ampler cloisters were.
  • 55Cloisters? No monk he was, allow;
  • 56But gleamed the richer for the shade
  • 57About him, as in sombre glade
  • Editor’s Note58Of Virgil's wood the Sibyl's Golden Bough.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
1.29.5    mistletoe]   See the discussion at line 58.
Editor’s Note
1.29.20    Admetus' shepherd]   Apollo, the most favored of the Greek gods, tended the sheep of Admetus in Thessaly for nine years.
Editor’s Note
1.29.26    angels round Cecilia]   St. Cecilia, martyred ca. 230 at Rome, became the patron saint of music. She is the occasion of "The Second Nun's Tale" by Chaucer and a "Song" and an "Ode" for St. Cecilia's Day by Dryden, and also of famous paintings including Raphael's St. Cecilia in Ecstasy, which Melville saw at Bologna (Journals, p. 116). Melville's source for the details of this passage (e.g., "that perfumed spell / Of Paradise-flowers invisible," lines 24–25) is unlocated; but the Paradise roses with which her guardian angels crowned her left such a smell (see 2.24.25–27). For Melville's print of St. Cecilia see Wallace (cited in the discussion at 1.6.28), pp. 63, 83, fig. 9. Of interest is Melville's letter of December 9, 1872, to his cousin Catherine Gansevoort Lansing: "Do you know much about the Natural History of Angels? Well, there is one variety known by this: in the place where they may have tarried for a time, they leave behind them a fragrance as of violets."
Editor’s Note
1.29.30    swart Vesuvian wine]   Probably Lachryma Christi, the famous red wine produced in the region (mentioned at 3.25.98—see the discussion).
Editor’s Note
1.29.38–39    Carthusian / Tho' born a Sybarite]   Carthusians belong to one of the strictest Catholic orders, noted for austerity and long periods of individual isolation; whereas the residents of ancient Sybaris were voluptuaries.
Editor’s Note
1.29.51    an Ariel unknown]   Tricksy, a shape-shifter, like Ariel in Shakespeare's The Tempest. Melville owned a seven-volume set of Shakespeare (Boston: Hilliard, Gray, 1837; Sealts 460; Bercaw 634); see the NN Moby-Dick, pp. 955–70.
Editor’s Note
1.29.58    the Sibyl's Golden Bough]   The Sibyl of Cumae told Aeneas where to find the sacred bough, glowing and golden in the dark groves, which served him as talisman in the descent into the underworld in search of his father. In Dryden's translation, which Melville owned (New York: Harper, [18—], vol. XII; see Sealts 147 and p. 224), the bough is described as Aeneas seizes it:
  • Through the green leaves the glitt'ring shadows glow;
  • As, on the sacred oak, the wintry mistletoe,
  • Where the proud mother views her precious brood,
  • And happier branches, which she never sow'd.
  • Such was the glitt'ring; such the ruddy rind,
  • And dancing leaves, that wantoned in the wind.
  • (6.297–302)
Virgil's simile of the mistletoe provides the imagery with which Melville opens (lines 4–6), as the golden bough closes, the glowing description of Vine. For Melville's framed engraving of J. M. W. Turner's The Golden Bough see Wallace (cited in the discussion at 1.6.28), pp. 59, 68, 86.
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